Exiled (The Protector Book 1) by M.R. Merrick - Read Online
Exiled (The Protector Book 1)
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Summary

Chase Williams is a demon hunter in the Circle, or at least he was supposed to be. On his fifteenth birthday, Chase stepped up to the altar to claim his elemental power, but it never came. Elemental magic is passed down to a hunter through the bloodline, but on Chase's birthday, the bloodline stopped.
Exiled without the Circle's protection, Chase has spent two years trying to survive a world riddled with half-demons and magic. When he has a run in with a frightened and seemingly innocent demon, he learns the Circle's agenda has changed: the Circle plans to unlock a portal and unleash pure-blood demons into the world. Vowing to stop them, and knowing he can't do it alone, Chase forms a reluctant alliance with Rayna - a sexy witch with an attitude and a secret. In their attempt to stop them, Chase and Rayna find themselves in the middle of the Circle's plan, leaving one of them to decide what their friendship is worth, and the other's life depending on it.

Published: M.R. Merrick on
ISBN: 9780987726209
List price: $2.99
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Exiled (The Protector Book 1) - M.R. Merrick

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1

I dodged the razor sharp claws coming towards me and turned to face the demon. I’d hurt him enough to force him to shift, but now I had to fight a bear, literally.

He stood on his hind legs with his back to me and I took the opportunity presented, unsure if I’d get another. I leapt onto his back and stuck one silver dagger into each shoulder. He roared in pain and anger as the blades pierced his furry flesh, and reacted with a flurry of quick movements that threw me from his back. I fought to keep hold of one dagger as I hit the pavement, while the other remained stuck in his shoulder.

The pitted asphalt burned and tore at my skin as I slid across it. The ground rumbled as the black bear stormed towards me. I jumped to my feet, but not in time to get out of the way. Its head collided with my stomach at full speed and smashed me into the crumbling brick building behind me.

Black dots filled my vision as the wall broke at my impact, showering me with loose bricks and pieces of mortar. I shook my head to clear my vision and wrapped my scarred fingers around the blade jutting from his shoulder. As I twisted my wrist, there came a bone-chilling screech from his toothy snout. Roaring in agony, the demon stood and hauled my body from the ground, leaving me flailing over his head as I struggled to hold on to the dagger.

I wrapped my legs around its neck while it shook from side to side with an unnatural speed, trying to dislodge me. The world blurred around me, but from behind his head, I forced the blade to his throat and pulled. The demon grunted as the blade split skin. Hot blood pumped over my hand but I didn’t hesitate. The violent movements slowed and a deep gurgling sound escaped from the bear’s throat. The smell of burning meat started to fill the air, and I pulled until I hit the spine. I’d sliced through the flesh; next came the hard part.

I planted both feet against the bear’s back and pushed hard to help pull the blade through its spine. The bone gave under the pressure and I tumbled to the pavement as the dagger went all the way through. The creature stumbled forward, the grotesque head rolling off the shoulders. Its body started falling, and soon both it and the head were engulfed in flames and burned to ash.

I stayed on the ground as the air my lungs craved rushed into them in waves. This had been the third attempt on my life in two weeks, and I couldn’t count how many there had been in the last three years. No matter how many times I survived, there was always another danger around the corner, and I still wasn’t used to being the victim. I was Chase Williams, a demon hunter. I wasn’t supposed to be the one looking over my shoulder; I was supposed to be stalking the prey.

I winced in pain as I lifted myself from the pavement, and brushed ash off my clothes and skin. I had to find a new way home; the demons had gotten all too familiar with this one.

The usual disappointment filled me as I approached my apartment. Broken windows and trash-littered patios were a sad sight to come home to. The broken hand rail shook and the stairs squeaked with each step. Fresh graffiti decorated the landing and I had to use my finger to open the door, which lacked a knob. All that aside, I was relieved to have made it home in one piece. Even if it required standing in the discolored, low pressure water from my shower for an hour, this blood would wash off, and I’d live to see another day.

I stood in the shower until the water turned cold before I gave in to my body’s demand for rest and went to my bedroom. I took in the mattress on the floor, the scratched and faded dresser, and the wobbly lamp with a sigh. It wasn’t much, but it was mine.

I fell onto the bed and relief washed over me. My body was consumed by pain that for anyone else would be even worse the next day, but not for me. I knew the scratches would fade, the scabs would heal, and the throbbing ache of having been thrown into a brick wall would be gone. By tomorrow I’d be good as new: one of the few perks to being a hunter.

I stared up at the cracked ceiling as muffled angry voices leaked through the wall. The sound of breaking glass and swearing followed as the neighbors started their nightly routine, which had become my lullaby. Their screaming pushed my body towards sleep, and as sleep approached the screaming faded. Darkness tugged at my eyes and I couldn’t fight it. I gave into my body’s urge for rest and fell into the dreamscape.

~~~~~~

Chapter 2

"Happy birthday Chase! Ready for your big day?" my mom said.

"Of course I’m ready," I replied, the excited smile fixed on my face. This was the day I’d been awaiting for so many years. All the training, books and lectures were done. Today I was going to become one of them: a hunter.

"I’m so proud of you. No matter what happens today, I want you to know that." My mom’s eyes were welling up with tears; she was always emotional with me.

"I know."

"Chase, the ceremony starts in a few hours. Why aren’t you training? my dad said. I hadn’t heard him walk into the room. Dammit, Tessa stop babying him! He needs to concentrate. It’s an important day."

My mom held back the tears that wanted to fall. Of course, Riley. You’re right, she said and slipped out of the room.

My stomach clenched as my father came closer. You should be training Chase. Just because it’s your birthday doesn’t mean you can be slacking off. I don’t want you embarrassing me out there.

"Yeah, Dad, I know."

"Excuse me?" He glared at me with the severe expression that dominated his face so often.

I cleared my throat and stood up straight. I mean, yes sir, I said. His pale blue eyes regarded me and he nodded. He left the room and I released the breath I was holding.

Everything around me faded, and I was standing at the entryway of the ceremony hall. The room looked bigger than I remembered. I entered slowly and my steps echoed around me. Six whitewashed stone pillars held up the ceiling and matched the walls, making them seem to fade in and out of view.

I moved past the faces I’d trained with for years, getting closer to the altar. The muscles in my abdomen tightened with nervousness and the sweat on my palms threatened to drip. At first I feared I’d trip on the first step and embarrass myself, but as I conquered it, the fear changed its focus to the ceremony. What if I don’t get a good power? If I don’t get the fire element like my father, will he be disappointed? I swallowed these thoughts and ascended the last steps.

The elder members were dressed in long white robes with golden sashes. Each of their faces displayed only a neutral expression. I stepped into the center of the altar and dipped my hands into the large stone bowl. The still-warm viscous liquid coated my fingers and palms. The blood looked black sitting in the bowl, but became bright red as I pulled my hands from it.

The elders chanted in the ancient language nobody else was permitted to understand. I moved around the altar and placed a bloody handprint on each of the six pillars. Drops of blood slid down the white stone; the blood came from the demon I had killed earlier, and it was the blood I needed to spark the birth of my elemental power.

After leaving my mark on the pillars, I returned to the center. The chief elder moved towards me and dipped his fingers into the bowl. He used the blood to draw a symbol on my forehead. I couldn’t see it, but I knew what it meant. Chase Williams, you have completed the prerequisites for the ceremony. You have been anointed with the blood of your enemy. Now is the time you discover your place among us, he intoned.

Each elder brought a stone into the center and set them in a circle around me. Each stone was engraved with a glyph to represent one of the elements. I moved to the first stone and reached my bloodstained hand over it. I called to my magic and recited the phrase I’d been taught. The blood of my enemy shall be the birth of my power. The birth of my power cements my soul to the Circle. I spoke with intensity and confidence. I waited, eyes closed, reaching deep inside myself to pull magic from within.

I repeated the phrase as I moved over each stone, letting a drop of blood stain it. One should react and reveal my element, but nothing happened each time I repeated the words.

Muffled voices reached me from the pews where other Circle members watched, but I wasn’t worried. I moved my hand over the final stone, the one I’d saved for last: the stone representing the fire element. I recited the words a final time, expecting the stone to burst into flames. But there wasn’t even a spark.

The voices got louder and I opened my eyes. The elders’ neutral expressions had changed, some to surprise, others to disgust. I recited the phrase again but the chief elder interrupted me.

"Enough. Take him to the containment room," he commanded.

"Wait, what? I sputtered as two hunters grabbed my arms and dragged me from the altar. Dad, what’s going on? I shouted. My pulse jumped into my throat and panic filled my voice. Dad?" I shrieked, before everything disappeared around me.

The containment room was bright with fluorescent lights, but the sight I wanted to avoid was my father’s eyes. I can’t believe you. You’re disgusting, he said. He slammed his hand on the table between us.

"Riley, that’s enough," Mom said.

"You stay out of this, he replied, not turning to look at her. His gaze was locked on me, but he seemed to see me like an object. This is impossible. My own son has no powers!" He kicked the table onto its side so there was nothing between us.

"Dad, I did everything you told me," I said. He took the final step and closed the distance. He pushed his nose against mine and his magic pulsed against my skin in a burning wave.

"Don’t blame me for your failure." He poked his finger into my chest.

"Get your hands off of him," Mom said, pulling at his arm.

My father let my mother pull him back and smoke rose from the hole he’d created in my shirt, but the anger in his eyes was what burned a permanent scar. He turned in an instant and a stream of flame exploded from his hand. The flame coursed and crackled over the table, which ignited as my father stormed from the room. I winced as the door slammed and glowing embers showered from the table.

My mother stepped towards it, shaking her head. I felt her magic come to life around me as a small ball of light grew in her hands. The light disappeared and a burst of water appeared, dousing the flames. The room grew hazy as it filled with smoke and steam, and I struggled not to cough.

Her water smothered the flames and I watched as her magic faded. She approached me, not speaking, with smoke billowing around her. She wrapped her arms around me and her magic swelled again, not as a wave of water, but as a rush of calming energy that coursed through me. Maybe she could do this because she was a water elemental, but I think it was mostly because she was a mother.

"What’s going to happen?" I asked.

She pulled back and cupped my face, forcing me to meet her bright hazel eyes.

"I don’t know, but whatever it is, we will get through it together. You and me, always," she said.

I tried to smile but failed. Darkness engulfed me and the room also faded, but the taste of smoke was still thick and burned in my throat.

I stood before the council and the elders stared down at me from their high oak benches. Their faces were again composed with blank but somewhat disapproving expressions.

"We’ve taken into consideration today’s events, and given your father’s exceptional history within the Circle, we can only agree with his proposal," the chief elder said.

The fear and the weight I felt on my shoulders vanished. As angry as he was, he still fought for me.

"The council has discussed the situation and we are unanimous in our decision. You will be given a small amount of funds, as well as fifteen minutes at the completion of this hearing to pack your belongings. Any books or weapons in your possession will be confiscated and you will be escorted off the property. You are not to return, nor are you to have contact with anyone within this association. From this point forward, you are not to be counted among the Circle. Instead, you will continue your life outside the Circle as a mortal. Should you fail to comply with this decision, you will be dealt with accordingly." The elder’s voice swirled around me and my shoulders bent as all the fear crashed back over me.

"Dad?" I said. My knees gave out and I collapsed to the floor.

He wore his proud, arrogant smirk now. You are no son of mine, he said.

"Riley Williams, Mom demanded, firmly but with a hint of desperation. You can’t do this."

Riley shook his head. It has been done Tessa. It’s for the good of the Circle.

"Tessa Williams..." the elder continued.

"I will not stand for this!" Mom said, ignoring him.

"This is not your decision, it is the decision of the Circle and our word is final." The elder finally gave way to anger.

"Well, the Circle is making a terrible decision. How can you send him away like this? He’s just a boy."

"We are not sending him alone. You, Tessa Williams, are also found guilty," the elder pronounced.

"Guilty? Guilty of what?"

"There is only one way a hunter births a child who has no powers. That is if the child has only one gifted parent, and…"

"How dare you!" Mom interrupted, but the elder raised his hand.

"You have committed the ultimate crime. You have risked exposing the Circle to the mortals and disrespected your husband in an unbecoming manner. This ruling is the will of the council, and so shall it be. This meeting is adjourned."

A film came over my vision and I couldn’t see the expression on my mother’s face. The tap of shoes on the marble floor moved towards me and her small hands wrapped around my waist and pulled me to my feet.

I shot up in my bed, beads of sweat falling from my face and covering my chest. I couldn’t see anything until my eyes adjusted to the darkness.

The room was silent, except for my own heavy breathing. My pulse pounded in my throat as if trying to escape while I tried to shake the remnants of the dream from my mind.

The scenes were the same every time, just flashes of that day. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape it. Going back to sleep wasn’t an option; I knew I would fall back into the nightmare. I peeled the sweat-covered sheets off my body and headed for the shower to try to wash the dream away.

~~~~~~

Chapter 3

I wiped a streak through the grime on the mirror. Wet blond hair stuck to my forehead and the dark blue eyes that stared back at me were different than those I remembered from my youth. It’d been almost three years since we’d been exiled from the Circle, and I wasn’t sure I recognized the person in the mirror now.

I shook that thought away and pushed away from the sink. It was five in the morning; going back to bed was pointless, and I was hungry. My mom was already awake. She was a vision of beauty sitting at the kitchen table with a book in her hand. She didn’t have to try to draw people to her, with those warm hazel eyes that could engulf you and somehow assure you that everything would be alright. She was petite with a slender build, but I knew the strength she carried. Her dark brown hair was shoulder length and always falling in her eyes, but there were no hints of gray yet, which was impressive given the stress of the past three years.

You couldn’t sleep either?

No, I admitted.

She moved towards me, reached up on her tiptoes and kissed my forehead. Well, I guess if we’re both awake we might as well have breakfast together. It’s been too long. She started to gather eggs, a frying pan, and other essentials. How about French toast? she said. She knew it was my favorite.

French toast sounds great, Mom.

She puttered about the kitchen. So your birthday’s coming up, the big eighteen. Do you have any idea what you want?

I shook my head. "You shouldn’t get me anything and you know that. We don’t have the money anyway. I’d rather just not think about it.

She stopped and turned to me. I’ll be damned if you’re going to have a birthday and not celebrate it. We’ll make it work.

You always do, but no matter how many good birthdays I have, they’ll never make up for the bad one.

My mom sighed. Chase. Riley. Williams.

Yes? I replied innocently.

This is our life now. I don’t regret what happened and neither should you.

Mom, things could be better for you if I… I loved my mother, but sometimes I hated that she couldn’t admit our life was better in the Circle.

Chase, my life in the Circle was a lifetime ago, and I don’t miss it.

Not even a little?

No, and you’re old enough now to know that your father and I hadn’t seen things the same way for a long time.

That caught me off guard and my first instinct was to defend my dad somehow, but he didn’t deserve that. Mom was trying to share something with me and I didn’t want to stop her from treating me like an adult.

What do you mean?

You’ve always known your father is a fire elemental and I’m water. They’re opposing forces of nature. My magic is for healing, and his element holds nothing but destructive power. Being polar opposites may be why we fell in love, but we couldn’t sustain it. Your father was always a proud and arrogant man, and so hard on you. Nothing you did was ever good enough, and granted, that’s part of the reason you are so good. You never stopped trying to impress him. It might be hard to believe, but once upon a time he was gentle, sweet, and kind. He wanted us to be one happy family. Then one day, something changed.

What?

She shrugged. I don’t know for sure. His power controlled him, and he became obsessed with you being his legacy, instead of his child. As much as you miss your old life, you need to understand exile is for the best for both of us.

It’s just hard to see that sometimes.

I know you have to bear the burden of being Riley Williams’ son, and that’s not fair. You’ve never been able to relax since the Underworld wants to kill you just for being his son. None of this is something a normal seventeen-year-old has to deal with, but hunters are never normal, she said with a smirk.

Yeah, try telling the Circle that, I said.

Mom shook her head. We don’t need the Circle, Chase. We don’t need their help. We don’t need their money and we don’t need their problems.

Maybe Mom was right, but I wanted to be fighting the good fight, not fighting to survive. We could make ends meet without its help, but sometimes I missed the support the Circle could provide, and without their funding, Mom and I worked full-time just to pay the bills. Mom worked in a rehabilitation center, a worthy employer that didn’t exactly make or pay a fortune. She enjoyed the work, but she couldn’t use her element in the open. Mom’s powers were useful, but people fear what they don’t understand.

So this was our life trying to be normal. I wasn’t sure why, but attacks on my mom were rare, while for me they were the most dependable thing I had in my life besides her.

Any plans for the day? Mom said, as the smell of French toast filled the room.

No, I work tonight.

I know you feel it’s your responsibility, Chase, but you don’t have to take so many shifts. You have enough on your plate dealing with the Underworld without worrying about paying the bills.

I grinned and gave her the reassuring words she always left with me. Mom, we’re in this together. You and me, always.

Her eyes welled up with tears and I wrapped my arms around her. She hugged me back and the calm feeling from my dream washed over me again.

Mom? I eyed the smoking frying pan. She didn’t answer. Mom, I think you’re burning it.

She jumped up, not wiping the single tear that trailed down her face, and attacked the frying pan with the spatula. Neither of us could help but laugh.

~~~~~~

Chapter 4

I’d had several jobs in the past year. This one I’d managed to keep for a few months. Most of my employers frowned on me coming to work with cuts and bruises all the time. It made for poor presentation, they’d say. I was thankful it hadn’t interfered with this job, yet.

I finished up my shift and had started my walk home from the burger joint when I felt it. A hunter doesn’t mistake the feeling that demons are around. It moves down your spine and chills your bones. Feeling it proved I was indeed a hunter, even without an element.

The August air was warm for the late hour, and a thick layer of sweat made my white shirt cling to me. I stopped and unzipped my duffle bag, locating the silver dagger inside. Silver was great no matter what you were fighting; it could do serious damage to anything of the Underworld.

The tingle shot down my spine again. If I focused, I could feel each hair on my neck rise. I saw a blur of movement across the street and watched it disappear into a shadowy alley. I moved across the street in a low crouch, resting my weight on the balls of my feet. I slowed my breathing and pulled the dagger from my bag before I slipped around the corner.

My senses were alive and strained to see movement, or hear the sound of feet shuffling against loose rocks. As a hunter, I could see well in the dark, though the only light came from a single flickering street lamp.

I was almost to the end of the alley when it hit. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it struck my back and launched me forward. My feet tumbled over my head and my back smashed hard into the concrete wall at the end of the alley. Hands grabbed me and lifted me to my feet, dragging me a few steps before throwing me back the other way. I flew through the air, hit the ground and rolled out into the street.

I used my momentum and came up on one knee to recover. My back burned where pavement had grated the skin off, but I pushed the pain aside as the figure stalked towards me.

Your death will bring me great glory, hunter. Killing the son of Riley Williams will make me a legend among the Underworld, the low voice gloated.

That’s really great, good luck with that, I said.

He smiled and the fangs that slid down from his gums were long and sharp. His pale skin started to thin as the vampire changed into his demon form.

Milky skin faded into transparent flesh, revealing the moving muscles beneath. Veins ran black through the vampire’s face and limbs, pushing against the thinning clear skin. Strange muscles in his hands pushed bony talons out over his finger nails, and the whites of his eyes disappeared, filling with an inky blackness. The dark orbs stared at me as his fanged mouth curled into a smile, and in a blur he sprang forward, talons swinging.

I ducked as they sliced through the air over my head. I brought the knife up into his stomach and twisted the